Wilson who? Jeremy Horst earns spot in Phillies’ plans

Wilson who? Jeremy Horst earns spot in Phillies’ plans
February 17, 2013, 4:30 pm
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CLEARWATER, Fla. – Phillies fans were not thrilled when the club traded well-liked Wilson Valdez to the Cincinnati Reds for little-known reliever Jeremy Horst in January 2012.

Though just a utility infielder, Valdez had won a place in the hearts of fans with his scrappy play and willingness to help the team in any role. Who could forget his taking the mound on May 25, 2011 and getting the win in a 19-inning victory over the Reds at Citizens Bank Park?

When Valdez was shipped out, the reaction ranged from why?  to howls of displeasure.

At his home in Wisconsin, Horst was aware of the backlash.

“I have a cousin who lives outside of Philly and she texted me that it was going to be tough to win over the fans because Wilson was so popular,” Horst said Sunday. “But I wasn’t worried about it. It was good to a point because there were really no expectations on me. I could write my own story and give myself a name.”

Horst wrote a pretty good story for himself.

The lefthander made a nice showing at Triple A, was called up by the Phillies in late June and recorded a 1.15 ERA in 32 games. In 31 1/3 innings, he allowed just 21 hits (one homer) while striking out 40 and walking 14. He held lefthanded hitters to a .170 batting average (8-for-47).

“He surprised me,” pitching coach Rich Dubee said. “When we got him we thought he was a guy who could pitch in our bullpen, but we put him in some tough situations and he handled them very well.

“He’s got a good package. He’s a great professional. You don’t know he’s around. He does his work. He has a resilient arm. He can pitch back-to-back days and he’s a big-time strike thrower.”

Horst was such an eye-opener in 2012 that he gained acceptance from those who initially did not like the idea of trading Valdez.

“That’s what I was hoping to do,” he said. “Show the organization what type of player I am.”

Horst comes into this camp competing for one of three open jobs. The Phillies like to carry seven relievers. Jonathan Papelbon, Mike Adams, Antonio Bastardo and Chad Durbin are assured spots. The Phillies would like to have a second lefty to complement Bastardo and there’s a general sense around camp that the job is Horst’s to lose, though fellow lefties Jake Diekman and Raul Valdes will have something to say about that.

Horst, 27, is taking nothing for granted.

“I’m hoping to battle for a spot this year and have my first full season (in the majors),” he said.

Take nothing for granted  is a personal motto for Horst. He learned it from his father. Bill Horst spent 27 years in the U.S. military, including six months in Iraq in 2004.

“He’s my motivation,” Horst said of his father. “He always taught me not to take anything for granted. He still works 70 hours a week in the oil fields in North Dakota. I have nothing but respect for him. I never want to let him down because of the things he’s done for me and our country. It’s a pride thing.”

Seeing his father work hard reminds Horst “how fortunate we are to have this job.”

Horst is a cold-weather kid, born in Wyoming, raised in northern Michigan and North Dakota. (He and his wife and two young children now live near Green Bay, Wis.) He always loved baseball and spent his winters throwing and hitting into a tarp in a heated garage. He pitched at Iowa Western Community College and Armstrong Atlantic State University in Georgia before the Reds selected him in the 21st round of the 2007 draft.

Horst was a starter early in his minor-league career before moving to the bullpen and getting to the majors with the Reds in 2011. Despite posting a 2.93 ERA in 12 games with the Reds, he was designated for assignment and traded to the Phils that offseason.

“It was disappointing,” he said of the Reds’ decision to move him, “but coming to Philly was a good opportunity for me. I really like the passion in Philly. It’s a great baseball town. The fans understand baseball. You can tell because they cheer at the right times, for a big pitch or a big double play.

“In our (team) meeting the other day, Ruben Amaro said he wants winners and passionate competitors in Philly, and that’s what I feel I can be.”

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